Why Right-Wing Populists Won’t Save Us
Right-wing populist parties are relevant to patriots because they are the only politically significant actors in the West who advocate against immigration. This does not mean that all right-wing populists are fundamentally opposed to immigration. Their recent criticism was directed primarily against illegal immigration. To a large extent, the political demands of right-wing populists would have been uncontroversial among center-left and center-right parties just a few years ago.
- Rule of law, especially regarding compliance with migration-related legal norms and border protection
- Combating anti-liberal movements, primarily Islam or Islamism, anti-semitism, etc.
- Integration measures for migrants such as language courses etc.
- Fight for equal rights for women by banning headscarves and burqas, courses on civic values for migrants, etc.
- Pacification of society by strengthening the state monopoly on violence, more rights for the executive, combating terrorism, non-violent conflict resolution, harsher penalties for violent crime, etc.
- Fight for religious freedom, especially for Christians and Jews in the context of Muslim dominance behavior
- Promoting families by financial support for children etc.
- Protection of indigenous culture by language quotas or promotion of folklore
Moreover, demands often comprise the following:
- Economic liberalism and self-reliance of citizens
- Social policy inspired partly by the center-left, or the opposite so as to exclude migrants from social benefits
- Commitment to the joys and liberties of the “common man” (against smoking bans, for automobiles and private transport, for pet owners and against animal cruelty, support for certain businesses such as catering, taxi operators, etc.)
Reactionaries of Liberalism
The commitment to the rule of law, against anti-liberal tendencies, for women’s rights, for religious freedom or integrative measures like language courses are demands that right-wing populists put forward against migration or aspects of migration. Ultimately, however, abstracted from their context these are ur-liberal demands, originating rather among left-liberals (as the avant-garde of liberalism) and later also supported by the center-right. None of these liberal aspects in any way promote the identity of the indigenous population or are directed against migration as such. These measures are only suited to improve the integration of (mostly illiberal) migrants into the Western liberal value system.
And where measures are intended to reduce migration, such as by dismantling the welfare state, they cannot differentiate between naturalized migrants and the native population. Supporting one’s own electorate, e.g. by promoting families, is impossible without also promoting migrant families (and even more so due to higher fertility). This contradiction cannot be resolved under liberalism’s principle of equality (egalitarianism).
What does that mean? The liberal state does not recognize any ethno-cultural identity of its citizens. No relevant Western nation includes the defense of ethno-cultural identity in its constitution. At best, the liberal state is neutral regarding the identities of its citizens, at worst it tries to overcome them. Right-wing populists meanwhile dream of a “liberalism without foreigners” as it perhaps existed in the first one to three decades after World War II.
Donald Trump, one of the latest representatives of right-wing populism, exemplifies this phenomenon. Consciously or not, his positive reference are the post-war years of the Eisenhower era. And the Austrian FPÖ likes to positively refer to the 1970s under SPÖ Chancellor Kreisky. This is because the downturn began in the 1980s, and the first signs of erosion became visible in liberal Western societies. The former guest workers had become permanent residents, the migrant flows had not been dammed, and the last conservative values from pre- and early-liberal times had been consumed following the 1968 revolt. Armin Mohler explains the fundamental situation [Armin Mohler: Gegen die Liberalen, Edition Antaios, 2013, p.11]:
Liberalism’s real political problem is that a liberal practice is only possible as long as certain traditional stocks of habits and deeply ingrained morals still exist to help society overcome its difficulties. In a nutshell: six conservative centuries enable two generations to be liberal without causing mischief. But once those stocks are consumed in permissive society, the best-intentioned liberal slogans become lit fuses.
And because right-wing populists want to return to that era, so to speak, the left is not entirely wrong to revile their voters as “losers of modernization.” What right-wing populists do not see: that the cultural malaise of the West, as analyzed by the Nouvelle Droite, is causally connected with liberalism (cf. Alain de Benoist: Der Liberalismus, der Hauptfeind, in: Aufstand der Kulturen, JF Edition, 2011, p.17ff) – but more on that elsewhere. Therefore there will never again be a “liberalism without foreigners.” The post-war years were merely a transitional stage in that respect, a relic, not a systemic option. Those times to which the right-wing populists refer will never return.
There are reasons for this, but they shall not concern us here either; quite apart from the fact that it is generally impossible to return to an arbitrary point in the past in order to choose a different branch. Such an attitude assumes that some historical decision was wrong and one merely took an unfavorable turn at that point. Right-wing populists are therefore something like the “reactionaries of liberalism.”
The right-wing populists as “reactionaries of liberalism” are thus not unlike those center-right “conservatives who always lose” (cf. Alex Kurtagic: Warum Konservative immer verlieren, Verlag Antaios, 2013). The latter always limp a few years behind the socially dominant left-liberals, only to eventually follow suit (gay marriage, feminism, migration, etc.). They are merely on the brakes. Right-wing populists are braking harder, trying to slow the drive of liberalism or reversing its direction, which however they have never accomplished in practice, even after decades. Indeed they rather encourage liberalism in some areas, as they believe it can be used against anti-liberal migrants (Islam).
The Sober View
So why won’t right-wing populists save us? Some aspects among others:
- Right-wing populists have no awareness of the depth of the problem and the necessity of a massive social transformation.
- Right-wing populists consider metapolitics irrelevant. They view our plight as strictly a matter of state policy, therefore solvable by the legislative and executive branches (which is understandable given point 1).
- Right-wing populists do not command parliamentary majorities or sole governments – neither in the past nor in the present, nor likely in the future. They are always in opposition or dependent on coalition partners who are not right-wing populists.
- The institutional corset of late liberalism narrows the factual scope for political action to such a degree that profound changes are impossible.
- Right-wing populists offer no grand designs for solutions because they lack a positive alternative framework beyond “liberalism without foreigners” (which is closely linked to points 1 and 2).
- Right-wing populists are objectively too slow even where they bring about changes. A critical comparison between the development of right-wing populism and demographics during recent decades clearly shows that this approach is impossible solely due to lack of time (ignoring points 1–5).
What does all this mean in detail? Concerning awareness of the situation, as initially discussed right-wing populists view immigration and issues with foreign residents as practical problems to be dealt with by practical solutions (executive, legislative). They do not, or not sufficiently, appreciate that the chain of problems starting with criminal foreigners and Islamic dominance behavior goes much deeper. Awareness begins perhaps with migrant crime, Islamic occupation of public spaces, and inadequate border protection, extending in the best case to addressing the Great Replacement (under various terms). The more gifted among them remember that the political left and the 1968 movement have played a central role, which often contributes to narrowing their analysis. Unaddressed remain for example the (liberalist) industry, always craving undiminished immigration which it relies on under liberal premises, or the pervasive lack of strong gender identities as a consequence (and not as a facet of Sunday speeches). Almost nobody in these circles goes as far as to conceive of liberalism itself as a political problem because individualism, egalitarianism, and universalism dissolve our identities.
Right-wing populists are unaware of metapolitics as they are completely fixated on party and state institutions as tools of their politics: majorities in the legislature, occupation of executive branches, and beyond that party work or participation in attached activist organizations. But a profound social transformation cannot be accomplished by law. And even activist organizations usually have no other task than supporting daily politics. Such right-wing populist youth organizations are career enablers rather than rebellious avant-gardes driving their party before them. Educational institutes close to the party are mostly reduced to teaching the trade of day-to-day politics. Other activist organizations are often social clubs whose only goal is identification with the party. Right-wing populist movements usually have no thought leaders, no intellectual sphere, no internal positive criticism (the AfD is partly an exception here). “Social policy” mostly gets a dirty look, considered myopically as a characteristic of the political left. The arguments effectively follow “liberal subjectivation:” the “private” should not be political, the citizen as a “private person” (as opposed to the political sphere), depoliticizing institutions, etc.
On the other hand, metapolitical awareness would be grasping a situation where appropriate measures far exceed pure state and party politics. Indeed politics also radiate metapolitics but the intensity is (too) low, putting the cart before the horse. Rather, an appropriate political-cultural milieu outside of the party should be promoted, at least favored and not combated. This is either not at all the case or no longer, at the latest since the FPÖ has joined the government and become dependent on a coalition partner. Austria has always been a pioneer in terms right-wing populism, and likely so on this point too.
Right-wing populists need coalition partners. Their parties have no majority on any level anywhere in the West. This means even if right-wing populists were aware of the scale of the problem and the need for metapolitics, they could not simply govern as they wish in their legislative and executive spheres. Worse still, there is absolutely no trend towards right-wing populists governing on their own anywhere in the West. Donald Trump is an exception only at first glance as even he struggles with his own party, the deep state, and by now a majority Democratic House of Representatives. The metapolitical environment of right-wing populist parties must expect constant bombardment by the left-liberal media front. This too has lately been apparent in Austria. Tensions in coalitions are the result, leading to a break in one of three predetermined breaking points: break-up of the coalition, break-up of the party, or break-up between the party and its environment.
- Breaking the coalition out of loyalty to a metapolitical environment is unlikely, as it would mean an end to posts, influence, and perhaps even financial disaster for some right-wing populists.
- But even if forces were strong enough to maintain the coalition, a break within the party between government supporters willing to compromise and radical opposition is the next most realistic variant. As this would be a catastrophe for the party and thus for all factions within the party, it is less likely than the third variant.
- Most likely is a break-up between the party and an environment whose purpose the common party politician has never really understood anyway. From a strictly party point of view this is the most tolerable variant, and it has recently occurred in Austria.
Western liberalism has a narrow institutional corset for political actors. That is, aside from a coalition partner there are numerous other limiting institutions. Among the supra- and international institutions, the EU is most relevant for Europe, partly also the UN or NATO. They all build up massive pressure if worst comes to worst, as with the Visegrad states. Constitutional laws, in particular the human rights conventions (ECHR), prevent any necessary changes. Simple laws that deviate too much are cashiered by increasingly political supreme courts. Furthermore, case law of left-liberal character has been accumulating over decades. Constitution and jurisdiction are therefore incorrigible, due to legal restrictions or lack of a majority or insufficient willingness of coalition partners.
Let us not forget other liberal personnel in the state apparatus (public administration, education, etc.). This liberal deep state also has taken root over decades, whether in Trump’s USA or in Austria where a red-black (SPÖ/ÖVP) proportional representation permeates all institutions. Public debates on Verfassungsschutz services (internal surveillance of anti-constitutional activities) in Germany and Austria show this clearly. Ultimately, the freedom of political debate has been restricted in recent years by a massive expansion of criminal legislation for illegal opinions (e.g. NetzDG or widened definitions of incitement). And whatever the criminal court cannot do, will be done by the fourth power in the state: the united front of big media which of course features not a single actor who would welcome a profound social transformation. Quite the opposite: the media form the barrage against any necessary change of course. Never mind the (entertainment) industry as another metapolitical pillar. In short, the possible actions of right-wing populist parties, as legislators or in government, are so institutionally restricted in late liberalism as to exclude a necessary radical correction, even if all aforementioned problems did not exist.
Right-wing populists act as a stronger brake for the liberal doctrine of progress than the center-right, the “conservatives who always lose” (Kurtagic). The right-wing populist reform initiatives, if any, therefore only have a slowing effect on the entire process of disintegration. Right-wing populists cannot reverse the development, like all reactionaries and despite their (implicit) hopes. Among the liberally constituted nations, the Visegrad states or other Eastern European countries outside of the EU act as the most powerful brakes. Yet they have no concept of how to actively solve the problems of late modernity or liberalism. They offer no counter-culture that goes beyond reactionary ideas. They become almost apolitical when they merely retreat into their nation-state bunkers (typical for Poland or Slovakia). They lack a dynamic counter-ideal, and they are not at all equipped to propagate such an ideal to the furthest corners of the West (and beyond), as the chief enemy is (still) capable of doing.
The equation of our identity with the liberal state (e.g. the Federal Republic of Germany as the land of the Germans) inevitably leads to disappointments and at best to the realization that this state neither defends nor recognizes our identity, sometimes even destroys it. No Western constitution has a decidedly identitarian foundation, nor is there any trend in that direction. Anyway such a foundation would be incompatible with the self-concept of liberalism (universalism, egalitarianism, individualism) – the left is correct on that point! But right-wing populists believe that liberalism would only need a “right-wing” orientation to solve the problem, thanks to insufficient analysis (Benoist: Liberalismus als Hauptfeind). And majorities for constitutional changes beyond liberalism are far removed from any reality. The final option of assuming that the liberal state will collapse of inherent systemic defects in the foreseeable future is unrealistic. The frustration of the (hard) left on that account during their entire existence should give reactionaries pause for thought, too. There is more to be said about this elsewhere.
Right-Wing Populism: Only Indirectly Useful
But if right-wing populists cannot save us, should one not at least support them? The 2015 asylum crisis has caused many Europeans to doubt liberal politics’ ability and willingness to act, and created a heightened awareness of questions of identity. Very good! But as soon as the acute crisis was over, that awareness has very quickly diminished (not vanished). Right-wing populists and sometimes center-right parties presented themselves as a lifeline and put those responsible under (ultimately modest) pressure to act. With the renewed slowing of “replacement migration,” awareness of it subsides. And this facilitates the rhetorical veiling, the denial or relabeling of events by proponents of migration. Very bad! Evidently people can get accustomed to much over long periods of time. On the other hand, abrupt changes are more likely to stimulate reflection or even resistance.
In short: Right-wing populist measures do not causally solve these problems, but they inhibit the indigenous population’s will to resist by slowing the process and through the belief that liberal politics could revert or stop migration. Consequently one must ask if support for right-wing populists is not only pointless but likely even harmful, unless that support has an indirect effect, namely opening up spaces for metapolitics! Right-wing populists bind resources to a hope they cannot fulfill, as we have seen. They render events acceptable through retardation, if unintentionally. If that retardation yields avenues of metapolitical action it is to be commended. If not, there is an urgent interest to discontinue such sedatives.
On the True Alternative
The Nouvelle Droite differs fundamentally from right-wing populists and (other) reactionaries, and offers building blocks for a true alternative. It does not want to return to a time before 1980 (reactionaries of liberalism), before 1945 (reactionaries of fascism), or before 1789 (true reactionaries of “throne and altar”). We should not forget that. The Nouvelle Droite processes the experiences of political modernity, which has identifiable causes and preconditions and cannot be dismissed as a mere operational incident of history. Modernity can only be overcome with the experiences of modernity, not by an utterly impossible return to an earlier or pre-modern era. The profound change that is now necessary is not genuinely political but belongs to the cultural, metapolitical sphere. Such a counter-enlightenment or counter-culture requires – in contrast to the liberalist eclecticism of right-wing populists – a spiritual preparation for a new European myth that binds us to our oldest past and reconciles us with our future. Nothing less than such an attempt at European rebirth is our task and the most promising exit from political modernity.
This text was composed independently of the FPÖ “Ibiza affair” and the 2019 EU elections.